By Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim
Our leaders, including the present prime minister, have often talked about keeping toilets clean, especially in public places, in keeping with our rising image as a fast-developing country on the way to becoming a high-income country soon.
Malaysia is reputed as among countries that spend a large part of the government budget on medical services and public health. And education receives the highest expenditure allocation, making the primary school enrolment ratio among the highest in the world. It is therefore appropriate that our youth grow up showing concern for clean toilets because they are an important factor in creating a culture of cleanliness in society, especially when they use common toilets in public places.
Our highway operators like Plus spend a lot on keeping the toilets at the rest stops clean. When travellers from Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand use the highways for touring the country, they are impressed with the high standards of hygiene at the rest stop areas.
On the other hand, some favourite eating places in the cities and towns do not have proper toilet facilities to keep them clean.
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Local authorities should be asked to be stricter on restaurants and shopping places to ensure they keep the toilets in good working condition, especially as Malaysia is now seeing more tourists coming here. We do not want foreigners to have a lasting bad impression on Malaysia because of their experience with our toilets.
I recall years ago visiting China when it was still a closed society. The toilets were terrible. After 1980 China opened itself to the world. I found in my next visit the toilets were so clean everywhere. I heard that the central leadership made clean toilets a national policy.
Our PM is acting in the national interest, like the leaders in Singapore and China, to make clean toilets a national priority. It may sound trivial but in real life, toilets can leave a lasting impression of the country’s level of civic responsibility.
As Malaysia becomes a more prosperous country, the human aspects of development become more and more important as a yardstick to measure progress. One of these yardsticks is the toilet culture. Although it is not openly talked about, toilet facilities are always at the back of everybody’s mind when they are deciding where to eat and where to shop. Mothers with young children also think about changing rooms for their babies.
Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim is a former treasury secretary general